Texas to conduct first comprehensive, statewide early childhood education and care needs assessment in 40 years.

Texas has not conducted a comprehensive, statewide needs assessment concerning the quality and availability of early education and care programs in more than 40 years. Though, local communities have conducted needs assessments throughout this period, Texas lacks a current statewide picture of the specific needs of families raising young children

A key priority of the Texas Early Learning Council is to update our state's understanding of the school readiness needs of its young children. In order to make good decisions about early care and education policymakers, providers, and community leaders need to understand the challenges facing families with young children and how our various early care and education programs are equipped or unprepared to handle those challenges. The Council will approach this task through two strategies.

First, the Council will study the availability and quality early care and education in our state, compared to our quickly shifting demographics.  Texas has the fastest growing early childhood population in the country.  That growth contains dramatic shifts in population composition.  For example, the number of English Language Learners will continue to grow at a rapid rate in the state, adding complexity to the challenges of improving school readiness in Texas. The Council will study recent census data and other demographic resources to gain a precise understanding of what the state's early childhood population looks like and what the needs of that population are.  Then, through thorough analysis of Texas' early care and education programs, the Council will identify gaps in our system.  Does Texas have the program capacity to ensure that ALL children are school ready when they enter Kindergarten?  Do parents of children with disabilities have options in selecting high-quality programs for their children?  Can rural families find sufficient care around them to meet their needs? These questions and more will be answered through this analysis.  This information will give policymakers and stakeholders better insight in how best to target resources.

The Texas Early Learning Council also seeks to provide a robust and in-depth look at early childhood development in various communities throughout Texas.  To adequately target strategies for improving school readiness throughout Texas, local schools, stakeholders, and community members must understand the barriers to school readiness many young children face throughout the key developmental years between ages zero and five.  Research tells us that young children's brain development is shaped by the environments in which they are raised, the stimulus they are exposed to, and the quality of their caregiver interactions.  It is impossible and developmentally inappropriate to separate the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of children, as all play a critical role in the each child's level of school readiness.  Understanding these facts compels the Council to attempt to identify, as specifically as possible, how children in local areas are doing on various components of school readiness.

To facilitate this process, the Texas Early Learning Council has begun to investigate a tool called the Early Development Instrument (EDI).  EDI is a comprehensive measure of early development and school readiness for young children that was developed by researchers at McMaster's University. The tool measures the five key domain areas identified by the National Educational Goals Panel as critical to the assessment of school readiness:

  • Physical Health and Wellbeing
  • Social Competence
  • Emotional Maturity
  • Language and Cognitive Skill Development
  • Communication skills and General Knowledge

EDI is a highly validated inventory of 104 core items that is completed by Kindergarten teachers for every child in his or her class.  Each inventory is then collected, de-identified, and uploaded into a data system that uses the information to create regional profiles that show the percentages of children who are developmentally vulnerable by domain. Rich community level data, as the type EDI provides, can dramatically improve the manner in which public resources are spent, the way schools plan for incoming kindergarten classes, and how organizations approach community improvement projects.

Many local, state, and national governments and organizations have used EDI to develop measurement systems to evaluate and improve programs and services to optimize child development. In Texas, the North Texas Area United Way is working closely with UCLA to implement EDI in the Wichita Falls area.  The data United Way collected will be used to assess neighborhood vulnerabilities, to better plan strategic community-wide interventions.  Additionally, United Way Capital Area, in Austin, Texas has begun planning how to use EDI in their community.

Over the next several months, the Texas Early Learning Council will work with representatives from the North Texas Area United Way and other agencies with EDI experience to gain a deeper understanding of the tool and how it could be implemented throughout Texas. Additionally, the Council will be working with the Director of the Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities at UCLA, Dr. Neal Halfon, MD, MPH, to consider implementation and to learn more about EDI data analysis.

The Texas Early Learning Council's needs assessment goals are about using state and federal resources as wisely as possible.  Only with information on current needs can policymakers and stakeholders make decisions that have the maximum positive impact possible. The Council should begin work on the assessment of the availability and quality of early care and education in Texas, in early March, 2011.  Interested parties should look for an RFP to be announced mid February, 2011.  The Council is still investigating the use of EDI, and welcomes feedback related to the effort.

  • Watch a Video on EDI:

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